1) What is your suggestion about?
The science fiction book is about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars after his crew believed he had died during an explosion. The main character, Mark Watney, is left alone on the planet with limited resources and no way to communicate back to Earth. He uses his expertise (he is a botanist), his training, and his resourcefulness to keep a level head under insurmountable pressure. It is a great story of creative problem solving and survival.
2) Why did you choose it?
The Martian may not seem an obvious choice when thinking about books on management. However, a number of themes resonate when considering great leaders. In order to survive, Watney needs to identify clear goals, remain focused, use facts and logic, and have confidence in his ability. These are all habits that any leader needs to be successful.
Watney also has a wicked sense of humor. Humor can be a particularly effective tool when negotiating through difficult situations. We all need to laugh at ourselves occasionally because the work we do is very important and may feel stressful at times. A sense of humor can certainly bring levity to a situation.
3) What else do you want to tell us about it?
Watney sometimes fails when trying to solve a problem. But he redoubles his efforts, thinks through the challenge, and tries again. It reminds you that you can learn just as much from those failures as you do your successes. If something does not work, you have to use facts, analysis, and ingenuity to find a solution another way.
Without wanting to give too much away, there is another part of the story the ground team at NASA that works to bring Watney home once they discover he is alive. There are moments when management has to make critical decisions by weighing the needs of an individual versus the needs of a group. Leaders also need to foster relationships within a team to build camaraderie. In doing so, the team will not hesitate to support someone in need. Teamwork is critical to make the mission a success.
The Martian is a very entertaining read. For individuals short on time, the book was made into a movie in 2015 staring Matt Damon. Here is a clip.
4) What is a key takeaway for leaders driving improvement in how we deliver for the citizens of Missouri?
People who work for the State of Missouri do so because they have a deeply rooted sense of connection to others. With limited resources, leaders need to solve problems with poise and creativity, and be willing to take risks to try new things. The desired result may not always be achieved, but drive and confidence in one’s own ability will push us to be better and to do better.